Well, while the blog as such hasn’t been moving forward in the sense of regular postings, there indeed has been a lot going on in all sorts of ways in the background.
There have been a couple of new ‘events’ and some changes in emphasis, as well as a very much consolidated idea about the bike that I’m restoring and the use that it will be put to!
Let’s start off with the bike, shall we! Since I intend to put in some serious mileage with the bike – more of that later – there are some conditions that have to be met. It is arguable that the British made the best bikes of the period in question, as is what is the ideal size and capacity for a motorcycle. These questions are not merely a matter of taste (though that has to weigh very heavily for the extremely personal choice that a motorcycle is or becomes), but a question of practicality and what the bike is going to be used for. It is often quoted that the 350cc size is the best compromise between power, weight and ‘nimbleness’, which would hint at them being the best ‘all rounder’. In General, I would broadly agree with this statement and have done many a happy mile on 350s – not least of which my 1938 Ariel, which started life as a 500 and was then ‘promoted’ to 350 for ease of use and tractability, especially in a succession of -20˚C winters in Germany. The original idea was to use the 500 in the summer for the longer trips and the 350 engine just swapped out for the winter for the local daily trips to work in snow and ice… Once the 350 was in there, I never needed to change it back, as I only ever rode ‘solo’ with the bike, anyway!
Ah the good old days in Germany! Well, further it has also been claimed that Velocette produced the best 350s… Arguable again, BUT undeniable is the fact that Velocette MAC and K-series bikes are probably the best 350s that I have ever had the pleasure to ride (I’ve never owned a ‘sprung-framed’ 350, only two 500cc MSSs, a ’55 with 250,000 MILES on the clock and a ’56 which I restored from a box of bits). The K-series being the most technologically advanced of the two, does not at all detract from the sheer ease of use, lightness and nimble handling of the MAC, and it’s ease of maintenance and reliability, especially the rigid ones!! Once they shared the sprung frame they became heavier, and so despite improvements in the ‘alloy’ version of the engine put in the later frames, the whole size of the plot increased and made them altogether larger AND heavier. Whatever. MAC? Great ‘little’ bike…
The KSS is altogether different, starting long before in the mid 20s and maturing through the thirties and directly profiting from the KTT racing variants in all sorts of ways… and also, inevitably, gaining in weight as time went on, and more specifically at the change from ‘Mk.I’ (which was never called that while it was in production, of course!) to Mk.II in 1936. Being an overhead-cam design, and a well-developed one at that, meant that for a 350, the bike had ‘spritely’ performance and was very smooth (due to a close-enough to square configuration) . All things being equal, a very comfortable fast tourer (NOT a particularly ‘sporting’ bike, though) capable of eating up the miles with a certain amount of grace and comfort! I always found any Velocette that I have owned almost effortless to ride, I must admit, anyway and the KSS is no exception. My first was one of the last ones made in 1947 with ‘Dowty’ forks (ahem, which was bored and stroked to 490cc…don’t tell anyone!). Of the Dowtys , I can only make the comment that I put them on a par with the Vincent ‘Girdraulics’, which take joint place at the top of the ‘best-forks-I-have-ever-used’ category. No other forks, before or after, handle like they do!! (on British bikes certainly not!)
HOWEVER: the design of the KSS does make it difficult to repair or set up accurately at all without special tools and expertise, which is not always available everywhere and definitely not ‘in the field’. Bush-mechanics have little chance of a ‘get-me-home’ fix if something untoward happens on the road, miles from ‘nowhere’ in particular.
Enter the MSS engine, stage left, to the rescue!!
Same frame, as-good-as-dammit same running gear, but now powered by a pushrod 500. Similar power, but different characteristics entirely. Much longer-legged, loping sort of power-delivery and a much more ‘agricultural’ and very solid design, making repair in the field a lot more feasible and possible.
SO, the bike now looks like this: Both bikes have the same frame and fuel-tank postwar for the Dowtys…
… which I am going to fit (eventually), despite the ‘doom’ cries I hear about losing air just when I don’t need it etc. If well maintained, they are fabulous forks and reliable: Upside-down, air-sprung and oil damped in both directions: Come on, get real! (OK, OK, a set of Girdraulics would be ‘interesting’, but I just don’t happen to have the four to six Grand that would be necessary to obtain a pair! – donations or swaps/buys at reasonable price WILL be considered!!). I might have to settle for Veloce forks off the later bikes for two reasons: Firstly I have to rebuild and then test the Dowtys over a long distance regarding air loss etc and secondly the later forks are perhaps not quite as good, but are more available and don’t have any other reliability issues, being sprung traditionally. I shall be aiming for 18″ rear and 21″ front wheels for tireless long-distance straight ahead work and good low-speed handling as well as reasonable availability of replacement rubber – VERY important. For long-distance off-road work, I’ll need Trials tyres and they don’t make them in a 19″ rear, unfortunately! However, the INITIAL setup will be with Webb forks and the 19″ shouldered ally rim laced on to the 1947 rear hub (without the speedo-drive). Once I swap the forks, I’ll be needing a rear-driven speedo and so will need to change that hub, too, so might as well go for the 18″ rim then… The oil-tank will remain as the froth-towered KSS variant (with an automotive oil-filter) and otherwise I do like the look of narrow guards, but might go the for the wide variants and make up a 21″ front for the sh*tty weather… We’ll see. 8″ headlamp of course, with HID lighting, naturally, a 12Volt rewound dynamo and electronic regulator, gel Battery , BTH manual racing Magneto and off we go! Not much else to it, really ! Oh, a gearbox and clutch will also ‘come in handy’ of course and perhaps a seat…! 🙂
Main thing is to get the bike on the road and start getting everything ‘settled and fettled’ to work trouble-free and without lubrication problems etc. The bike will have to be able to work at considerable minus-temperatures as well, since trips are definitely not limited to the Australian continent!
So the bike will initially look very much like this, except for the 21″ wheel instead of the 19″ front that is fitted here!! The Later addition of telescopic forks will make a ‘subtle’ difference, but this is how it will first go on the road! – Just wondering what the 21″ will look like on the Dowtys and if I will have to make any other changes in concept as a result of potential handling issues… Anyone had any experience of that setup?? Maybe that is a question for the technical forum!
Anyone else have any ideas on general configuration? Would be glad of any comments and tips, experiences and offers of straight-jackets appreciated!
Here, in contrast, the KSS-engined bike, with a bigger front-wheel (21″) and slightly upswept-exhaust (non-standard) but which improves ground-clearance slightly for right-hand-corners. I don’t fancy dismounting and pushing around bends, like the riders of some other makes would seem to have to do… 🙂
© peter gouws 2013